Carbonated Mass: How Much Pollution Did LACMA’s Big Rock Generate?

Though IN THE AIR has spent the last two weeks, like most of the art world, cheering a 340-ton boulder on its route from quarry to county museum, the hoopla around LACMA‘s $10 million effort to assemble the final piece of Michael Heizer‘s “Levitated Mass” has left us with a slightly bitter taste in our mouths — or, to be more accurate, a carbon-y odor in our nostrils. Just how much fuel did the granite megalith’s move require, and how many CO2 emissions did it generate? We got out our solar-powered calculators and crunched the numbers.

— the 340-ton rock traveled 106 miles;

— it was transported on a custom-made rig simultaneously being pulled by one 600 horsepower 18-wheeler and pushed by two more 600 horsepower 18-wheelers;

— traveling between 11pm and 5am, the rock’s average speed was between 5 and 8 miles per hour;

— the custom-made trailer was 294 feet long and, once loaded with the boulder, weighed a combined  1.2 million pounds.

One conservative estimate, which had the whole convoy consuming 10 gallons of diesel for every mile traveled (or 1,050 gallons of diesel), concluded that the entire “Levitated Mass” move must have produced at least 11.76 tons of CO2 emissions, while construction of the cement trench in front of LACMA produced an estimated additional 125 tons of CO2, for a grand total of roughly 136.76 tons (or 273,520 pounds) of CO2 — or about the same quantity of emissions generated by 170 round-trip flights from New York’s JFK airport to LAX, according to one carbon footprint calculator.

According to, the total cost of carbon offsets for such a volume of CO2 emissions would be about $151,980 — or enough money to buy two more of the 340-ton, $70,000 boulders — or  mere 1.5 percent of the total cost of the project.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image © Michael Heizer; photo by Tom Vinetz.)